1. BRAZIL SITIO SERRA E LEITE
Natural Process/ Yellow Catuai Arabica/ 1150 m
Filter - Peanut butter, toast, Black grape jam, creamy
Espresso – Nuts, milk chocolate, caramel, popcorn
Like most coffee roasters, we lean heavily on Brazilian coffee for our blends. Perhaps the quintessential low-altitude coffee, it typically contributes sweetness, body and crowd-pleasing flavours of nuts and chocolate. It’s very much a team player and is often used as a base to which more “interesting” coffees can be added. Indeed this is the thinking behind our own Under Milk Wood which features Brazilian and low-altitude Indian coffee, into which a splash of high-grown bright and fruity Ethiopian is added for seasoning, much as squeeze of citrus or dash of vinegar enlivens your favourite dish.
Given that acidity and fruitiness typically go hand in hand with higher growing conditions, lower altitude origins such as Brazil can often be overlooked by speciality consumers who tend to seek more lively, assertive flavours. However, with careful processing, it is possible to enhance fruit character and even enjoy some brightening acidity alongside the nutty sweetness. Brazilian coffees, especially more commercial examples tend to be pulped natural processed, a method that involves most of the ripe fruit around the bean being milled away before the remaining beans are dried with some sticky residue (honey) still attached. Known as honey processing in other countries, this method delivers sweetness but not necessarily much fruity complexity.
However, when naturally processed by allowing the ripe fruit to dry around the bean whilst still intact, it is possible to impart additional acidity and fruit character to even low-altitude coffee. On our Jan-Feb list we showcased an exceptional and experimental natural Brazil that took this idea and ran with it further than we thought possible! This time round we have a more classic example - it’s sticky, sweet and balanced with loads of toasted nut character which remind me strongly of my favourite breakfast of jam and peanut butter on sourdough toast. I’ve enjoyed this coffee most in a cafetière where the creamy body is accentuated by the brewing method but this super versatile coffee tastes great as a filter or even a sweet and rounded single estate espresso.
2. YUNNAN OU YANG (CHINA)
Natural Process / Catimor Arabica / 1250m
Filter – Strawberry, Elderberry, Rose, Herbal
Espresso – Cocoa nibs, bramble fruit, rum, tart
Something new for Dark Woods customers this month as we present a Chinese coffee on our single estate list for the very first time. We have had access to good, clean Yunnanese speciality coffee for a while now and although it blended well, the washed examples we purchased lacked the necessary wow-factor to make it onto our singles programme. This natural coffee from pioneering producer Ou Yang however showed something extra and we’re delighted to share it with you.
It delivers all the bold, fruit-forward flavours you might want from a natural coffee with intriguing notes of rose and cocoa nibs lurking beneath. These come out especially clearly when brewed as an espresso with milk where the overall result reminded me a little of chocolate covered Turkish delight. As a filter I also found a subtle herbal character on the finish that is hard to place but is similar in character to a green tea. This coffee is big, complex, extremely characterful and a wonderful introduction to Chinese speciality.
This coffee was also picked up by Square Mile Coffee Roasters back in October who shared some great insights into the way the farm is managed and how it integrates with the local community. It’s a nice little read and I encourage anyone who is curious to check it out on the link below:
3.TANZANIA BLACKBURN ESTATE
Fully Washed/Kent and Nyassa Arabica/1760-1950m
Filter – Blackcurrant, liquorice, toffee, full
The Blackburn estate is well known in speciality circles, both for the quality of its coffees and for the commitment of its owners to ecologically sensitive farming practises. Run by German ex-pats Michael and Tina Gehrken for over twenty years, the farm encourages bio-diversity and has developed an ecosystem that negates the need for pesticides almost entirely. Situated in the shadow of Mount Oldeani the estate lies along the southern border of the Ngorongoro crater which is a haven for wildlife and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Furthermore, Michael and Tina have deliberately allowed for around 80% of the land to remain a mixture of grassland and natural savannah and the area is still home to a wide range of indigenous species including a large troop of baboons who must be regularly reminded that the ripe coffee cherries are intended for human consumption!
This coffee is fairly typical of East Africa in that it has a juicy and fruit-forward character alongside some slightly more atypical liquorice notes. Sweet and full bodied this high-altitude coffee is big and bold with plenty of toffee sweetness to balance the bright blackcurrant acidity. Best enjoyed as a filter, a brewing method which seems to accentuate its clean, mouth-watering fruitiness.
4. BURUNDI KIREMA
Fully Washed/ Bourbon, Jackson, Mibirizi Arabica/ 1880 m
Filter - Lime, caramel, black tea, juicy
Espresso – Lime, toffee, bright, zesty
This bright and zesty coffee comes from the privately owned Kirema washing station in Kayzana province, a region of Burundi famed for excellent coffee and home to many past Cup of Excellence winners. In the area coffee is a subsistence cash crop and is farmed by smallholders with around half a hectare of land on average. Cherries are delivered to a central washing station or nearby collection point and day lots are created from these. Most mills and washing stations used to be government owned but many are now in the hands of private organisations which has helped to drive quality and development within the area and the mills themselves.
Though not especially complex, I found this coffee really enjoyable, with an assertive lime character offset by sweet toffee and notes of black tea. Both the espresso and filter were very citrus heavy which I personally found more balanced as a longer brew, but for those who enjoy their shots juicy and zingy there is lots to enjoy in this coffee. Best pulled short with a longer brew time as this espresso is fairly light bodied and needs a bit of work to tease out the sweetness.
5. BOLIVIA SANTA BARBARA COMMUNITY
Fully Washed / Typica and Caturra Arabica / 1500m
Filter – Wafer biscuit, chocolate, raisin, smooth
Mid-altitude Central American coffees like this are what we at Dark Woods tend to call “coffee coffees”. Often with speciality coffee, extremes of altitude or unusual processing methods can result in complex fruity flavours and bright assertive acidity which although exciting and memorable are a long way from most people’s everyday coffee experiences. Though you might reasonably argue that this is exactly what makes it special, we believe that there is room at the table for coffees with a more familiar, more “coffee-like” character. They are often forgiving to brew with, taste sweet and balanced and pair harmoniously with milk.
This coffee from the Santa Barbara Community, a group of small-holder producers based on the Eastern slopes of the Andes in Bolivia fits this description perfectly. It's sweet, balanced and tasty with notes of wafer biscuit, milk chocolate and raisins. It has a moderate acidity and full-body which makes it a really enjoyable all-day drinker, suitable for all palates and preferences.
6. DR CONGO SOPACDI "MISTY MOUNTAIN"
Fully Washed / Bourbon and Catimor Arabica / 1400-2000m
Filter – Lemon curd, honey, floral, complex
Espresso - Lemon meringue, honeysuckle, ginger biscuit, plump
Until relatively recently, coffee in this North Easterly region in the DRC had no local markets and was often smuggled across Lake Kivu or simply bartered for food and other essentials. Though it had a history of producing good quality washed arabicas, much of this infrastructure had been disrupted by decades of political instability. Twelve years ago a group of small producers came to gether, inspired by the newly formed specialty coffee co-operatives in neighbouring Rwanda and made plans to do the same. In 2008 they found their first specialty coffee buyer and since then things have gone from strength to strength. Today Sopacdi have over 3,200 farmer members and recently achieved Fairtrade and Organic certification alongside delivering valuable education on agronomy to local producers and investing in new washing stations. This day lot, named after the striking peaks in the area, stood out on our cupping table for it's complexity and subtle floral character and though responsible for holding up this article by it's late arrival into the roastery, is for me at least, the pick of our African coffees this month.
It's such an aromatic cup regardless of brewing method and delivered something delicious every way I tried it. In the cup expect big, sweet and enticing aromas of biscuits, ginger, lemon and honeysuckle. The sweet, citrus notes are rich and reminiscent of lemon curd and through milk this feels really decadent, like drinking a big mouthful of lemon cheesecake. Despite the brightness in the acidity, the meringue-like, sugar-sweetness and plump body made this a surprisingly easy to handle espresso and we've kept the roast like to ensure that it retains freshness and a hint of those lovely florals.